Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Starting an at-home business? Don't quit your day job

I will work for myself. I will have a less stressful life. I will make lots of money...

Starting and running an at-home business is sometimes one of those ideas that sounds better than it actually is. Especially if you go into it with that mindset. The fact is, it is just not that simple. And with the added stress of a failing economy, it can be damned near impossible if you don't have the right tools.

So you want to be your own boss. Set your own hours. Be the owner of something, and put dollars in your own packet instead of helping someone else's stock go up a quarter of a point. But how do you make that transition without losing your shirt, or your mind for that matter?

The first thing is to understand that whatever you do - from making killer cream pies to grooming pooches - will NOT be an overnight success. Studies show the mean time investment to actually start turning a decent profit is 2 to 5 years. So even if you have that bang-up dress design/pizza service/glittering porcelain frog lawn statue that everyone wants, it's still going to take time.

Let me tell you from experience. My copywriting and editing company, 911 editing, has been around now for over 2 years. I do have a modest client base, and one heck of a portfolio (if I do say so myself); still, no one's beating down my door. The amount of time time I spend networking and marketing borders on ridiculous.

But that's what it takes. That and a market niche, meaning you have to know who will need your product or service.

Other questions to answer before taking the plunge: How will you bring it to the market? What will it cost to produce? How will you find your prospects? How many items do you need to sell in a week/month/year to break even? How much will it cost to set up your office? Who's your competition and how can you do it betetr?

And, believe me, even if you're cheap (I resemble that remark), start-up costs can add up. Plan ahead on where you'll be getting things like a desk, basic office supplies, computer, phone line(s), web hosting, business cards/letterhead/ads/brochures, marketing and copywriting help, and necessary software.

My advice is this: Start with a business plan. Have someone do a professional one (they start at about $100). Mine has saved me some heartache and a bit of sanity. Have Plan B, and C and D for that matter. Know how you will manage the bumps in the road ahead of time, and be able to recover from them. Study your market. You can never know too much.

And don't quit your day job .. yet.

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